US SECRETARY of State Hillary Clinton praised the agreement which meets republican demands for the transfer of law and order powers, while detailed timetables also set out a framework to meet unionist calls for a new system to oversee loyal order parades.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the agreement laid the foundations for a new future: “That better future must be built on mutual respect for people of different traditions, equality and tolerance and respect for each other’s political aspirations and cultural expressions and inheritance.”
Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “The achievements have been as great as they are inspirational. This moment and this agreement belongs to the people of Northern Ireland, all of the people, and now more than ever before, so does their future.”
He added: “This is the last chapter of a long and troubled story and the beginning of a new chapter after decades of violence, years of talks, weeks of stalemate.”
Church leaders from across the religious divide welcomed news of the deal. The21-page document produced yesterday includes systems to try to ensure greater co-operation in the power-sharing government made up of unionist, republican and nationalist politicians. It aims to tackle divisions that it was feared could have forced a collapse of the political institutions.
The blueprint also carries a pledge to deal with outstanding issues, believed to include protection for the Irish language and promoting the Ulster Scots tongue.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Peter Robinson said: “There are some who will play politics with this agreement but the real focus in the months to come must be on building an administration at Stormont that our whole community identifies with and supports.”
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said that as an Irish republican he wants to see a united Ireland but he recognised that unionists want to maintain links with Britain. He insisted both communities could and should live together in mutual respect.
“We need to make life better for our children and grandchildren,” he said. “That is what this agreement must mean in practice.”
Hillary Clinton said: “Today, Northern Ireland has taken another important step toward a full and lasting peace. The accord they reached today will help consolidate the hard-won gains of the past decade.”
“We join the world in looking to the leaders of Northern Ireland to build upon their efforts by promoting a new spirit of co-operation among all parties,” she said.
Matt Baggott, Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, welcomed the announcement, saying: “I do believe that devolution is a step to a safer, secure, more peaceful Northern Ireland, and look forward to working with the new minister and the Department of Justice in due course.”
Leader of the Alliance Party David Ford, tipped to become justice minister, said: “It is clear the people of Northern Ireland could not have tolerated failure and certainly the agreement seen this morning between the DUP and Sinn F€in has to be welcomed as a step towards removing the poison that exists in our political system.”
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